The White House Coronavirus Task Force issues weekly reports to governors about the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic but doesn’t make those reports public, keeping key county-level data and federal advice to states out of sight.
The Center for Public Integrity is collecting the weekly reports for all 50 states in a new document repository, which will be updated as information comes in. Last month, Public Integrity obtained and published a copy of a 50-state report, which showed 18 states were in the “red zone” for coronavirus cases, meaning they had more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents and more than 10 percent of new tests were positive. Nine states remain in the red zone, according to a recording of an August 19 private call between federal and state officials.
The White House has insisted that the response to the pandemic be led by states while the federal government provides guidance.
“The White House Coronavirus Task Force is providing tailored recommendations weekly to every governor and health commissioner for their states and counties,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in an email to Public Integrity in early August. “From the beginning, this has been a locally executed, state managed, federally supported response as local leaders are best positioned to make on-the-ground decisions for their communities armed with [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines and best practices to limit the spread of COVID-19. As the President has said, the cure cannot be worse than the disease and the United States will not be shut down again.”
The reports offer detailed looks at the pandemic’s status in each state, including federal data on the percentage of positive tests in metro areas that appears not to be available elsewhere. Dr. Deborah Birx, a leader of the White House task force, said on a private call Wednesday that the reports were “critical to really ensure we’re all looking at the same data and all looking at the same mitigation efforts.” Birx has referenced the reports several times in private calls with local and state health officials. The task force has sent eight weekly reports to governors since late June.
It’s unclear whether governors consistently share the reports with local leaders or even their own state health departments. Tulsa officials never received such a document, the city’s mayor said in July. The Arkansas Department of Health, which receives the weekly reports from the governor’s office, did not have the two most recent ones when Public Integrity inquired August 19.